Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mount Olympus

I told my kids at the breakfast table this morning, “The most important things are almost never urgent, and the urgent things are almost never that important.” I’m sure I’m paraphrasing the late Stephen Covey here, but it’s true.

Alison's Guitar

Our thirteen year old daughter, Alison, is buying her first guitar today.  A nice one, a steel stringed Fender.  I told her how proud I was of her.  She beamed.  She chose to save her money for what mattered most to her.  Now how do we do that with time?  Is something taking us toward the mountain or away?  Is something important, or just urgent?  Is it just easy to get, or do we truly value it?  Like my friend Whitney Johnson says: deciding means killing something.  Homocide, fratricide, suicide, decide.  

I love the ad that's running right now during the Olympics: 

Why have they not done these perfectly fine, enjoyable, good things?  Because something else was more important:  the Olympics.  They were moving toward Mount Olympus.

(If you think the odds are long and the pay is sporadic for artists, try being an Olympic athlete.)

So again, Neil Gaiman's commencement speech to the University of the Arts:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Walking Toward the Mountain

My mother in-law sent my wife and I a link to this video yesterday (see below).  Thank heaven for mother-in-laws.  Some of the best things I've read or seen come from her.

So I've watched this twice (which is no small matter since it's nearly 20 minutes long and--as Paul Simon says--"I've got short little span of attention...why's my life so long?")  But I've watched it twice now, and I've spent a good bit of time journaling about it this morning.  I think I may spend the next few days extrapolating and exploring the ideas Neil talks about, but for now I want to focus on "walking toward the mountain".  Career paths are fickle things.  I found it refreshing that he prefers to call his professional life 'a ride' rather than a career path, because "a career path would indicate some sort of plan."

Old Rag Mountain - One of my favorite hikes.

I remember talking with a friend who was the son of a very wealthy businessman.  The father specialized in turning around troubled companies.  His advice to his son as he graduated from college was "It's all about career path, career path, career path."  That has haunted me ever since.  Why?  Because I've never had a career path.  Like Neil, I've always followed the notion of do whatever feels like an adventure, and when it stops being an adventure and starts to feel like work, stop doing it.  [Sorry all potential job interviewers, I'm just putting it out there.]

So I'll stop there, because I could go on...and probably will in the near future.  But for now, I leave you with the May 2012 commencement speech from Neil Gaiman to the University of the Arts.

Please comment.  I'd love to know what you think.  Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ways to Be Brave

My daughter asked me last night, “How did that ship get four miles off course?”  We'd been watching thew news about the Costa Concordia which ran aground off the coast of Giglio island near Italy.  I didn’t know the answer, so I told her what they said on the news:  There was a electrical failure and their navigational equipment wasn’t working.  But having recently finished a coastal navigation course, it got me thinking.  I know there are many ways to ‘take a bearing’ or know where you’re at in the water, and none of them require electricity.  You do need a chart (map) and a compass.  That’s it.  Pretty simple.  By looking at two to three points of reference and noting their compass bearing from where you are, you can ‘triangulate’ and know with great precision, where you are.

I think the tricky part comes in when we get lazy, when we don’t want to know where we are, or we’re pretty sure we already know, but don’t want to go through the effort to find out.  Or worse, when all the data says one thing (i.e. the island should be on the port side of the ship, not the starboard side) but we just don’t care.  I’m not sure what to call that.  Pride?  Hubris?  Willfulness?  I would also submit ‘afraid’.  It’s a scary thing to take stock of where we are.  Some people don’t want to look at their bank statements or credit score.  Some students don’t want to look at their grades.  Some people don’t want to visit the doctor.  Why?

So in answer to my daughter’s question, “How did that ship get four miles off course,”  there are many reasons, but I would say that one of them could be fear.  It’s easy to become afraid, especially when working in a group.  Who’s the guy on the bridge who’s going speak up and say, “Hey, I think we’re off course.  We should check this out.”  It’s scary to be the whistle blower, the one to challenge authority, or simply speak one’s mind.  But what if we did?  What if we said, 'Something doesn’t feel right.  Something doesn’t look right.  Let’s check it out.'  Accidents happen, and often they truly are accidental.  But also I think there are lots of ways to be brave.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Chicken Steps

Why'd the chicken cross the road?

My wife and I want to sail around the world as a family.  (Well, it's really my idea and I’m just dragging her along.)  That said, sailing around the world is a fairly scary and daunting task. Contemplating the depth of the ocean while bobbing across the top of it, knowing that sharks and slimy things lurk beneath the surface, and not being able to see the “other side” while crossing an ocean, are just some of the scary parts.  That’s why we’ve decided to work towards it, not by taking baby steps, but by taking chicken steps. 

Here’s how we’re starting out:  our children need passports for this undertaking.  Getting passports is less scary than sharks.  So…getting passports is what we call a chicken step.  Next scary thing:  how in the world are we going to pay for such a ludicrous undertaking?  We don’t know exactly, but why should that stop us?  What we do know is that we have a lot of stuff around in our apartment that we don’t use or really need…certainly not on a boat.  (That's my wife's idea.  She's just dragging me along.)  What if we sold all that stuff and put it toward passports?  Small stuff, but it's a start.  That’s a chicken step.  Starting to get the idea?  

We need a boat.  Buying a boat is scary.  Chicken step:  look at boats online.  Get a sense of how much they cost, then make a plan to afford it.  

So what are we doing?  We’re selling some of our perfectly-good-but-cluttering-up-our-apartment kind of stuff on eBay and Craigslist.  Our two oldest kids have passports.  Only three more to go.  And after months of looking online, we’ve been to one boat show and visited with two brokers about boats we’re interested in.  We’re not there yet.  Not by a long shot.  And I don’t even know if we’ve taken any baby steps.  But we’ve taken lots of chicken steps.

So why'd the chicken cross the road?  I don't know.  But I know it started with a chicken step.

What are you scared of?

P.S. Emily recapped our day of boat shopping nicely here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Left Foot

Artist's rendering of my shoe.

So about my shoe:  My left Asics Gel Cumulus running shoe is missing.  It has been since Christmas morning.  As far as I can gather, my four-year-old daughter--who didn't know any better--threw it into one of the boxes of wrapping paper gathered up after opening presents, and it accidentally went out the door as garbage.  

It took us a long time to arrive at that conclusion.  We searched all through our not-so-large NYC apartment several times.  I offered free iTunes to the kids if they could find it.  We even reviewed family photos of Christmas morning, like accidental security camera footage, to see if we could identify it’s whereabouts.  I even asked my daughter, point blank (because that always works) if she knew where it was.  No luck.  

I don’t know why, but I’m having a really hard time accepting this new reality.  My left shoe is gone.  I have a perfectly good right shoe, right here in my hand.  But it does me absolutely no good. It’s maddening.  What do I do with it?  Do I throw it out?  Do I donate it to Good Will?  Can I purchase a new match?  I was determined to find resolution.  

I went to the Asics store.  I brought down the shoe still in my possession.  Maybe they had a display model they could sell me.  Maybe somebody had returned a pair because the right shoe was damaged but the left one was still good.  Maybe I wasn't alone in my despair and Asics actually shipped single shoes to their retailers in case of just such occasions.  Again, no such luck.  If I wanted a full pair of shoes, I would have to buy a new pair.  (I'm now convinced more than ever that planned obsolesence is NOT just another corporate conspiracy theory.)

$105.  That's what they cost now.  (Thank you Federal Reserve for the hyper inflation.  I bought them a year ago for $89.99!)  Spending that amount of money on a pair of shoes I already owned was not something I felt particularly inclined to do.  However, on the upside, if I bought the new pair, I’d have a spare.  Having a spare is a good idea, right?  That’s smart and practical.  At least with tires.  But somehow it doesn’t feel the same with shoes.  Besides, it’s not like they’re interchangeable.  I specifically need a left shoe.  Two rights don’t make a left, and two lefts don’t make a right.  The whole thing just feels so wrong.  (Did I just write the chorus to a country song?  This is bad.)  

So as I muster up my courage and figure out how I’m going to move on with my life despite this tragic and unexpected shift in circumstances, I have to do what will ultimately give my mind and heart the peace I know I’ll need going forward.  As I see it, I have two options 1) Just let it go.  Cast my right shoe upon the waters of life and be willing to let it drift away.  Or 2)  I could try to sell it on eBay.  I think I'll go for a run and mull it over.  OR! ...if anyone out there has a size 10 left Asics Gel Cumulus running shoe (see picture above), please contact me directly.